Local students take top prizes in Dyer-Ives poetry competition

Alissa Vezikov, left, of East Rockford Middle School won first place for her poem 'Grief,' and Aliya Hall of Godwin Heights High School won first place for her poem 'Hawk Island Girl'

Aliya Hall loves the work of poets Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and Chinaka Hodge. Their strong voices have served as inspiration for her as she’s dabbled in writing and spoken-word poetry.

“The first thing that ever inspired me to write poetry was seeing people that are my color doing it,” said Aliya, an incoming junior at Godwin Heights High School. She won first place for her poem “Hawk Island Girl,” in the high school through undergraduate division of the 51st annual Dyer-Ives Poetry Contest.

Alissa Vezikov, an eighth-grader at East Rockford Middle School, also took first place in the prestigious competition. She won the kindergarten through eighth-grade division for her poem “Grief,” a lament to lost childhood innocence.

Both students read their winning poems at the Grand Rapids Public Library during the 50th annual Festival of the Arts. In 2016, the Dyer-Ives Poetry Competition became a program of the Grand Rapids Public Library, funded by the GRPL Foundation–Dyer-Ives Foundation Poetry Fund.

For their winning works, Aliyah and Alissa won $125, and $100, respectively, and publication in Voices, issued by the Grand Rapids Public Library.

Tapping into Memories

Aliya’s winning poem, “Hawk Island Girl,” was inspired by the poem “to the notebook kid” by Eve Ewing, a Chicago-based writer. She tapped into her own memories of family visits to Hawk Island Park in Lansing, basing the girl in the poem on herself.

“It was my first time ever doing something like this. It was very emotional for me,” Aliya said about reading her poem at the library. “Writing is everything to me. I put all that I can into my writing.  My readers, I want them to pull whatever they can from it.”

Aliya has attended the Grand Rapids Creative Youth Center, which offers after-school creative writing programming. Also, she was also one of two local students to attend the International Congress of Youth Voices, an experience she wrote about for School News Network. She is returning to the event, which connects students with accomplished writers, activists, and elected officials, as an alumna in August.

She hopes to attend Hampton University, in Virginia, and pursue journalism, creative writing and business.

Grieving and Creating

For Alissa Vezikov, her poem “Grief” meditates on the loss of childhood innocence and the need to regain one’s identity.

“I feel that in today’s age we have so many people that conform to peer pressure,” Alissa said. “It causes them to lose their identity. I wanted to write a poem about grieving away your childhood, lamenting that (loss of innocence).” However, she also expresses the need to “grow from that and make that part of a new identity.”

She said she was encouraged to submit the poem by her English teacher, Kelly Darling. Alissa has written dozens of poems and hopes to publish many of them in a collection.

Writing poetry is a kind of therapy for her, she said. “I really use poems to get my thoughts down on paper and get a stance on where my heart is at the moment.”

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles's full bio.

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